In the first Pac-12 game Colorado ever played, it squared off against another Pac-12 newbie - Utah.
The game wasn't much of a contest, with CU routing the Utes, 73-33, on Dec. 31, 2011. The Buffs used their smothering defense to hold the Utes to 11 points in the first half.
Two years later, Utah comes to Boulder with more talent, more experience and more confidence under its belt. The Buffs (15-6, 4-4 Pac-12) will host the Utes (14-6, 3-5) on Saturday at noon at Coors Events Center.
"I just think they have more talent, they know their system and they're ready to compete," CU junior Askia Booker said about the difference between the Utes of two years ago and the Utes of today.
Two years ago, Utah finished 6-25 overall and 3-15 in Pac-12 play during coach Larry Krystkowiak's first season. The Utes improved to 15-18 a year ago.
This year, they've been one of the pleasant surprises in the conference. Even in their six losses, the Utes have competed. Their losses have come by a total of 22 points, with four of them by three points or less.
"You knew they were going to be improved; you just didn't know how much," CU head coach Tad Boyle said. "They scheduled right. They gained a lot of confidence in their non-conference schedule, so they believe they can win. They know how to win, and they're in every game. Their record, at 3-5 in the Pac-12, is very, very deceiving."
None of the 10 players who saw the court for Utah in that 40-point blowout two years ago are on the roster this year. Krystkowiak has brought in a new crop of talent, led by outstanding junior guard Delon Wright and sophomore forward Jordan Loveridge. Both are among the top 10 scorers in the Pac-12.
"They've recruited well," Boyle said.
He also added that older players on the Utah roster, most of whom transferred from other schools, are much better than they were a year or two ago.
Wright, a transfer from City College of San Francisco, figures to be one of the toughest challenges CU will face this season. During Pac-12 play, he leads the Utes in scoring (17.9 points per game), rebounding (7.1 per game), assists (3.6 per game), steals (2.6 per game) and blocks (1.6 per game).
"He is Mr. Everything for them," Boyle said.
In addition, Boyle said that outside of CU's Josh Scott, Loveridge is the most improved sophomore in the league. Loveridge leads the Utes in scoring (16.6) and rebounds (8.0) for the whole season.
It's not just the stars that are better, though. Booker said he sees a totally different team than the one Krystkowiak brought to Boulder two years ago.
"From what I see watching film, they're being basketball players," he said. "Before, they were staying in a lot of sets. Now they're running a lot of ball screens for Delon, for (Brandon Taylor), their point guard.
"Before they were setting flare screen after flare screen after back screen. To me, they were being robots; that's why it was so easy to defend. Now, when you're being a basketball player, it's a lot harder to defend. That's what has changed over the years."
While the Utes have improved, the next step in their progression is to win on the road. Dating back to last season, they have lost 10 road games in a row, including 0-5 this season. They are 1-21 all-time in Pac-12 road games.
Boyle knows better than to read into that stat, however. The Utes battled top-ranked Arizona on the road on Sunday night, falling by just nine, 65-56.
"It's not going to be easy, because Arizona got all they wanted from Utah," Boyle said.